How to have an intelligent conversation

Jul. 28, 2013 @ 02:26 PM

Someone’s stuck inside my phone, and I can’t get her out, even if I’m offering mint chocolate chip ice cream.

Yes, I have one of those smartphones that comes with an “intelligent personal assistant” that you can speak to and with whom you can discuss important topics of the day, such as why do we need telephones that have intelligent personal assistants inside? Why can’t we just eat Twizzlers instead?
The intelligent personal assistant is one of these technological breakthroughs, based on elaborate voice-recognition algorithms, which are, I believe — technically speaking— lots of little numbers. You talk to the algorithm and it immediately understands what you are saying and lets the little person inside my phone send emails, make phone calls, find directions, whip up a tasty flan and solve the Israeli-Palestinian problem.
The problem, of course, with an intelligent personal assistant is that it’s working with me, a less than intelligent personal assistant user. Consequently, my intelligent personal assistant and I have had some interesting and, well, not particularly intelligent personal discussions.
Me: Call Paul.
My IPA: Pall Mall cigarettes or cigarillos?
Me: No, call Paul.
My IPA: Haul balls? What kind of balls do you want me to haul?
Me: No, call Paul.
My IPA: Where do you want to haul balls to?
Me: No, call Paul.
My IPA: I have no listing for Carl Fall. Would you like me to search for Carl Fall?
Me: Don’t search for anybody. Just pay attention. Call Paul.
My IPA: Do you want me to remind you to go to the mall? When do you want to go to the mall? It closes tonight at 9, you know. You could make it if you hurry.
Me: No, I don’t want to go to the mall. Call Paul.
My IPA: I can give you directions. If they don’t work and you get lost, I can recalculate. I can keep you out of bad neighborhoods.
Me: No, I’m not going anywhere. Just call Paul.
My IPA: There are no restaurants nearby named Taj Mahal. Do you want me to find other Indian restaurants within five miles that offer dal? Do you want me to look up what dal is and the history of how it’s made? Gluten-free or low-sodium?
Me: No, just call Paul.
My IPA: Which Saul do you want me to call? Saul Work? Saul Home? Saul Bellow?
Me: Don’t call Saul Bellow. I need to finish the book first. Just call Paul.
MY IPA: Fall weather is predicted to be cooler with heavier than expected rainfall. Do you want me to check summer weather for Fall River, Mass.?
Me: OK, forget about the call. Just send a text message to Paul.
My IPA: What do you want to say to the wall?
Me: I’ll call later.
Neil Offen can be reached at theneiloffencolumn@yahoo.com.